Professor PogachEnglish 201G-WA
DateBeowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Hero
The notion of heroism has evolved significantly since ancient times. However, the definition still possesses synonymous features across cultural boundaries and timelines. Anciently, heroism was much associated with fearlessness and strength, with epic heroes posing as saviors sent from heaven to protect their land. Conversely, heroes in modern society are thought as role models with honest, humble, and selfless attributes that allow them to put the interests of others before their own. An analysis of the poem Beowulf portrays the protagonist, Beowulf, as an Anglo-Saxon hero. Beowulf displays many deeds of bravery including risking his life for the safety of his people, an act that results in significant glorification by his people. Throughout the poem, Beowulf displays heroic characteristics in various situations. He goes around boasting about his bravery (Conquergood), which embodies him as an Anglo-Saxon hero. In Anglo-Saxon culture, a hero should have good leadership qualities and ability to protect his people. In addition, as William explains, a hero in an Anglo-Saxon culture is willing to go into danger irrespective of the odds associated with the action. Anglo-Saxon heroes lived like kings, always distinguishing themselves above the rest of the population. The exaltation never came on a silver platter. The “hero” had to earn it by doing something that has greater good for the people (Wormald). Beowulf is a good example of an Anglo-Saxon hero
Beowulf is more than willing to risk his life for glory, honor, and security of his people. In most of his adventures, Beowulf risks his life to achieve these goals. For instance, his resolution to fight the fire-breathing Dragon, Grendel, and Grendel’s mother shows his unrelenting desire to fight for the greater good of the society. He claims, “This is not your, nor is it up to any man except me to measure his strength against the monster or to prove his worth. I shall win the gold by my courage, or else mortal combat, doom of battle, will bear your lord away” (II.682-687). Garcia notes, “A hero must be willing to die to achieve glory” (para. 5). Beowulf courageously risks his life for glory and honor. His sojourning to Danes to battle Grendel was based on honor to keep the Danes safe rather than money. Beowulf says, “They had in remembrance my courage and might. Many had seen me come safe from the conflict” (I. 321-322). Instead of seeking reward for bravery, he asked the people to “put another notch in his belt” (I. 321).
Beowulf was dutiful, to both Hygelac king and Danes to whom he was sent to protect. He is much committed to serving his king, his society, and fostering its security. When he left for the battles with Grendel, Toll wife, and the Dragon, Beowulf was doubtful of his safe return from the battle. After the battle, Hygelac offers him a sword as appreciation. Instead of taking the sword, Beowulf gives his land to Hygelac for the service of the latter’s sword on the battleground. By killing the Dragon, Beowulf considered the act as a royal obligation to protect the kingdom and its people. Slaughtering Grendel, Troll’s wife, and the Dragon constituted the protagonist’s fulfillment of his royal duty. As Garcia says, “Beowulf constantly refers to his loyalty to his lord, Hygelac” (para. 6). Beowulf protects his people as well as responds to his king’s call to help Danes fight the monsters Grendel, Troll’s wife, and the Dragon.
Beowulf endures reputation through royal obligation. With the idea of a lasting reputation, he portrays himself as an epic hero. The killing of Grendel, Troll wife, and the Dragon are acts of fame and hence Beowulf’s reputation among Thanes. To show respect for his obligations, Heorot rewards Beowulf with gold as tribute. The Thanes advises him that his true superior determination and riches should be embraced to establish and enhance strength.
Beowulf portrays the qualities of military prowess and valor. During the battle with Grendel, the monster “Knew at once that nowhere on Earth/ Had he met a man whose hands were hard” (I. 42-43). He kept the fight in spite of the monster’s sharp jaws that can chop any man to the bone. He eventually ends up ripping Grendel’s arm. It is only possible with a hero to muster such deeds and Beowulf “…Of all the men on earth/ Was the strongest” (I. 80-81). Depicting Beowulf as a hero, Jokinen notes, “Beowulf is a man who fights because he must, for the survival of his tribe or nation.” (para. 2). In this regard, it is the duty of a hero to preserve his life by valor.
As the protagonist beholds the Dragon’s riches, he shares some wise words with his comrades. He lives the treasures for his people, demonstrating a high sense of integrity. Thinking about his beloved people before death tolled on him, Beowulf humbly gave thanks saying, “I give thanks/ That I behold this treasure here in front of me/ that I have been thus allowed to leave my people/ So well-endowed on the day I die” (I. 412-415). He lives a heroic legacy among his people by telling his troops to “construct a barrow/ …on the coast” to serve as “…a reminder among his people -/ So that in the coming times crew under sail/ Will call it Beowulf’s Barrow” (I. 419-424). Beowulf’s exaltation emanates from his acceptance of wyrd. Defining Beowulf’s exaltation, Gwyn Jones wrote, “For if he accepts what is destined, without bowing to it, he triumphs over it. An unbreakable will makes him the equal of all-powerful Fate, and
though fate can destroy him, it can neither conquer nor humiliate him” (Jones 43).
In conclusion, Beowulf demonstrates Anglo-Saxon heroic characteristics throughout his deeds depicted in the poem Beowulf. He portrays good leadership skills by putting the interests (security) of his people before his own life. He goes into battle with monsters just to keep his land safe in spite of imbedding danger. These qualities distinguish him as a leader most praised and glorified by his people. Being able to put one’s life in line for the greater good of the society is heroic in the Anglo-Saxon culture. This is what Beowulf was – an epic Anglo-Saxon hero.
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